Miami Heat: Who is the Preferrable Second Round Opponent

The Miami Heat have had time to go on a mini-vacation with the rest they’re getting as a result of their sweep of the Milwaukee Bucks.

While they continue to attempt to stay focused, they patiently await the winner of the four-five matchup featuring the Brooklyn Nets and Chicago Bulls. The Bulls held a 3-1 series lead at one point, but have dropped two and are losing bodies fast.

The Heat haven’t played since this past Sunday’s 88-77 series-clincher over the Bucks. The winner of the Bulls-Nets series gets a day’s worth of rest, before heading to Miami to play a team that hasn’t played in over a week.

There’s the potential for some early slip-ups from Miami, as well as some focus issues considering the level of their opponent, and they also continue to monitor Dwyane Wade’s knee. The sweep over Milwaukee and the Nets-Bulls series going seven have only aided Wade’s cause.

Brooklyn and Chicago have been partaking in a series that has had its jaw-dropping moments, as much as its had its fair share of games you catch up on sleep.

Neither team has been overly impressive, and haven’t exactly done any convincing that would lead one to believe they stand a fighting chance against this well-rested Heat team.

Chicago is falling apart at the seams with Luol Deng, Kirk Hinrich, Taj Gibson, Nate Robinson, Joakim Noah, Richard Hamilton, and, of course, Derrick Rose dealing with injuries or illness, as seen in Robinson’s case when he was throwing-up during timeouts in their Game 6 loss.

When Luol Deng is missing games, as he did last night in potential close-out game due to a sickness, you know it’s serious.

Meanwhile, Brooklyn is continually going through offensive droughts against one of the league’s top defenses. Although there have been three occasions where the Nets have scored at least 100 points, they have also scored less than 82 points twice.

Brooklyn went through a stretch where they converted one field-goal in 26 tries in their Game 3 loss. Even with quality scorers in Joe Johnson, Deron Williams and Brook Lopez on the floor, the Nets have found themselves stymied by a relentless Bulls team that is collectively playing through the pain.

Obviously the Heat are going to want to play the Nets. Miami won all three of their regular season matchups by an average of 17.5 points and brought out the worst in their All-Stars, including 11 points on 40 percent shooting, 6.7 assists and 5.7 assists per from Deron Williams.

Williams shot less than ten percent on his 11 three-point attempts, only converting one.

Norris Cole had a lot to do with Williams’ struggles. His excellent lateral movement and ability to stay in front of his defender kept Williams beyond the perimeter and frustrated, either taking jumpers or committing turnovers.

Brook Lopez was featured in only two games with mixed results. He had only eight points on eight shots and seven rebounds in the first meeting, but followed it up with a solid 21 points and seven rebounds in the second.

The combined margin of victory for the Heat in those two games was 50. So much for the Heat struggling to beat teams with quick guards and centers with an offensive repertoire.

The Nets failed to score more than 89 points in any of their meetings, while the Heat eclipsed 102 points in the same games. Outside of the 30-point drubbing in the first meeting, Miami won the last two meetings with substantially devastating third quarters.

In the third quarters of the past two games combined, Miami has outscored Brooklyn 68-33.

Chalk up the Nets as another team the Heat know they can beat in the span of a few minutes. Even with more notable names than the Milwaukee Bucks, the Nets have proven in their regular season matchups, and this nightmare of a series with Chicago, that they are not going to be a legitimate threat to the Heat’s reign.

The Bulls can’t say the same, but they can at least boast to being a far more challenging matchup to Miami. Chicago defeated Miami twice in the regular season in four meetings, including a win that snapped the Heat’s 27-game winning streak.

If the Bulls received some rest, they might have a sliver of a chance. However, Noah dealing with plantar fascitis (and still playing all but five minutes of Game 6), Hinrich and a bruised left calf that has kept him out the past two games, and Rose’s ongoing ACL recovery have all but hindered Chicago’s chances in pulling off an upset of Miami.

Because if the Bulls can’t get a healthy Noah to defend Chris Bosh and a healthy Hinrich to defend Dwyane Wade, they’re going to end up relying on Nate Robinson isolation jumpers to keep them close.

However, Chicago’s defense has been one of the most effective against Miami’s number one offense in terms of efficiency, according to Hollinger’s rankings. Because of the range, activity and commitment to defense of the Bulls, Miami doesn’t get the open looks they usually get against a defense such as Milwaukee’s.

During the regular season, Miami averaged only 5.3 three-point makes against Chicago. Only against the Los Angeles Lakers in their two meetings did the Heat average less three-point makes per game.

Miami shot 30 percent from beyond the arc against Chicago.

Still, these are regular season numbers, and it’ll be interesting to see the Bulls try to keep up their energy-level for up to seven games against Miami’s ball movement, which ranks first in the league in assist ratio.

The problem with that theory, however, is the Bulls and the lack of rest they would be getting. If you recall their series with the Heat in 2011, Chicago began to tire in the fourth quarter because of the effort and energy they put into defending the Heat’s ‘Big Three’ for three quarters.

Once the fourth quarter came around, the Heat still had energy left in the tanks. Chicago couldn’t get it going on either end.

The energy exerted by Chicago will need to be at maximum efficiency against this Heat team. The ‘Big Three’ have shooters all over the court and Chris Andersen to provide some resistance on the defensive glass against the constantly-crashing Noah and Carlos Boozer.

Andersen scored a season-high 15 points and grabbed seven rebounds in a 12-point win over Chicago in their final meeting of the year, albeit with Noah sitting out. Still, Andersen aided the Heat in losing the rebounding battle only by one.

Once again, however, Chicago won the offensive rebounding battle 11-4.

In four meetings, Chicago is averaging nine more total rebounds and is winning the offensive rebounding battle with 13.8 boards to Miami’s 5.5.

Chicago is at their best when they’re grabbing boards. In wins this season, they’re averaging 45 boards to their opponents 40. In losses, they’re getting outrebounded 43-41.

It’s no coincidence that Chicago’s two wins against Miami were a direct result of the Bulls getting a significant amount of chances. In Chicago’s 96-89 victory, they outrebounded Miami 48-28, won the offensive rebounding battle 19-4, and had 15 more field-goal attempts.

In the second Bulls win, Chicago held a 43-31 rebounding advantage, won the offensive rebounding battle 12-6, and had eight more field-goal attempts.

And in Miami’s other win? Only outrebounded 39-36, 13-8 on offensive glass, and only gave up two more field-goal attempts. That came in an 86-67 road win where Chicago shot 37 percent.

Yes, Chicago wins games by missing shots. As long as they’re putting the ball on the backboard or off the rim, they can rely on Boozer, Noah and Gibson to get the second-chance and the easy high-percentage basket.

It’s a waste of defensive energy. Miami uses up its energy for over 20 seconds to force Chicago into a bad shot, only to see the carom end up in the hands of a Bulls’ big for a put-back layup.

All Miami has to do to beat the Bulls in a seven-game series would be to keep this depleted Bulls team off the glass.

Easier said then done, of course. This Bulls team prides itself on effort, which means hitting the boards on both sides of the court is a necessity. Add in the fact that this team is so limited on offensive weapons that the best options may be to throw up shots just so Noah and Boozer can hit the glass.

 

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